Alice Springs & Uluru - 4-14 July 2007

Subject: Alice Springs & Uluru - 4-14 July 2007
From: "Tom and Mandy Wilson" <>
Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2007 21:42:12 +1000
Hi all
here is a report from my recent family holiday to the Red Centre, with a bit of birding thrown in...First up, many thanks to those who responded to my RFI from a while back - the 'gen was much appreciated, even if I did not always get to use it to the best effect (see below...). We travelled Alice Springs (1 night) - West MacDonnells (3) - East MacDonnells (1) - Alice Springs (1) - Kings Canyon (1) - Yulara (3), using a campervan whilst around Alice and hired a car staying in "budget" accommodation at the Kings Canyon and Yulara resorts. My first observation, campervans are alright up to a point - but it does make it tricky for the sole birder in the party to sneak out for an hour in the early morning or late afternoon without taking the rest of the party with him! (And of course some of the place we birders like to visit are not on the top of other peoples' "must visit" lists!)

All in all, it was a pretty good trip. My target list comprised some new species for me and others I saw in 1991 (when I was still a green birder) and wanted to get a better look at. Conditions were pretty good as there had been some rain around (although at lot less at Yulara than at the other sites apparently), except it was often quite breezy, which constrains searches for small birds with high pitched calls. Throughout the trip, there were lots of the regular desert birds, such as Spiny Cheeked, Singing, White Plumed and Grey Headed Honeyeaters, Rufous Whistlers, Galahs, Ringnecks, Crested Pigeon and plenty of Brown Falcon, Kestrel, Whistling and Black Kite and Wedge Tailed Eagles. There were Mistletoebirds at pretty much every site and lots of Weebill around too.

Landing at Alice Springs, the first afternoon was spent familiarising ourselves with the truck, provisioning and settling in, although I was spotting the "easier" locals, such as Black faced Woodswallow and the residents of the MacDonnell Range CP, including Western Ringneck and a gang of Grey Crowned Babblers. We spent the next morning at the Alice Springs Desert Park - which I would highly recommend for its great displays of desert birds and animals, but the park hosts plenty of wild ones too - including a very aggressive Wedge Tailed Eagle that forced the cancellation of the morning bird show after the Barn Owl part - he had already dive bombed a passing (wild) Black Kite and the handlers decided that their charges were too valuable to risk. Wandering around the park, I picked up Splendid Wren (beautiful male), Peaceful & Diamond Dove, Southern Whiteface, Grey Crowned and White Browed Babbler, and the first of many budgies and had my first "thornbill test" - in this case an Inland.

We then headed west to the Glen Helen resort. En route near the junction of Larapinta and Namatjira Drives, I stopped to look at a very heavily built falcon, but as I drew up it flew away from me, so I only got a tail on profile, looking into the sun. The size and heavy wing beat made me think it was possibly a Grey Falcon, but I'll never know on that one...A fortuitous stop to stretch legs and get some air somewhere near the Serpentine Gorge turn off gave up the one and only Bee-eater of the trip (I thought they were supposed to be away for the winter?) and a White Winged Triller.

We arrived at the resort about 5, and enjoyed the big group of budgies settling down for the evening as we arrived. They were being harassed by a Hobby and a Sparrowhawk - the latter then had a go at a Night Heron as well. The next day we spent walking to look at Glen Helen gorge, and exploring the area to the west of the gorge, and in the afternoon just messing about on the bed of the Finke River. The morning walk took us into a rocky/spinifex area, but there was not much about, and then back across flatter country to the campground. On this area, there were lots of Diamond Doves, Variegated and Splendid wrens and I saw 2 Bourkes parrots fly past - I certainly saw them well enough to know that they were not doves but I couldn't track them down again. In a mostly dry creek bed were lots of Zebra and Painted Finches (a bird I had only ever seen fleetingly before) drinking from residual pools, so I got some great views. The main gorge itself had enough water so that I couldn't get round the edge to look at the wetlands, but I could see Darter, White Faced Heron, Swamphen, Coot, Moorhen, Grey Teal, Black Duck and Reed Warblers - with Zebra & Painted Finch and Budgies coming to drink from the margins. After an afternoon messing about on the dry bed of the Finke River (which produced 4 Red tailed Black Cockatoos), I managed a late afternoon/early evening walk through a spinifex covered slope opposite the resort's entrance road, where I picked up 2 Slaty Backed Thornbills (new) and a Spinifexbird (1991 resighting), as well plenty of Diamond Doves, a cracking male Blue & White Wren and lots of budgies.

On the Friday we drove to Ormiston, where I was allowed a brief period in a recommended patch of good spinifex trying to find Rufous Crowned Emu Wren - it was a bit blowy, so any calls were going to be lost. After about 10 minutes (nowhere near long enough in my book to make the most of the good info I had) I was pressed to move on to do some real walking in the Ormiston Gorge (spinifex plains not hitting the aforementioned "must see" list for other travellers!). We walked into the gorge via the Ghost Gum walk, and then back along the gorge. There was a Peregrine circling high up on the cliffs and Painted Finch in the gorge. Around the campground were Hooded Robin, 3 Western Bowerbirds, Grey Crowned Babbler, lots of Wrens, Weebill and Zebra Finch.

At Ellery Creek Big Hole there was a White Necked Heron and 6 Hardhead and at the Ochre Pits I saw a pair of Mulga Parrots and heard a Crested Bellbird - could I find it? Ha!

The following day, we traversed back from the West to the East MacDonnells via Alice Springs (for provisions and a trip to see the Ghan for my railway mad son - I have to give a bit to get my birding opportunities, despite being the tour director!). We drove past Emily Gap (where there was a Peregrine on the cliffs) and ended up at Ross River, where there were Rufous Songlarks singing loudly and a Hobby and tons more budgies, and a solitary Sulphur Crested Cockatoo - the only one of the trip. Sitting out by our campfire, I heard an Owlet Nightjar and very early the next morning a Boobook called for 10-15 minutes (it was -3C, so I wasn't going looking for it!)

The next day we walked in Trephina Gorge, where I got a very fleeting glimpse of a Dusky Grasswren's tail as it shot into a gap in the rocks. As we dropped down off the rocks into the gorge I saw a Grey Fronted Honeyeater. The Zebra and Painted Finches drinking at the waterhole were targets for a Sparrowhawk, but it was less interested in the 2 Australasian Grebe on the waterhole. We passed a top spot about 1/2 way in along the access road that had Rufous Songlark, Diamond and Peaceful Doves, Hooded Robin, Striated Pardalote, a passing flock of Cockatiel, a Common Bronzewing and two Mulga parrots. On the way out (just as we reached the main road) a treecreeper shot across the road showing its buff wing flashes as it landed - I presume it was a White Browed, based on the range, but by the time I'd stopped and reversed, I couldn't find it again.

Between the Trephina Gorge and Corroborree Rock turn offs were 6 or 7 White Backed Swallows - the only ones I saw, plus 2 Sacred Kingfishers and several Red Backed Kingfisher. The former were both seen front on, so the orangey breast was easy to pick.

Swapping the van for the hire car, we set off south (the long way) to Kings Canyon. Plenty of raptors over the road, including a couple of Black Breasted Buzzards just south of Stuarts Well. Not far from Mt Ebeneezer, I saw 2 Ground Cuckoo Shrike cross the road - the only ones of the trip - a better sighting than my previous effort as I was much closer, but I still haven't managed one on the ground. We stopped for lunch at a rest area not long after Mt Ebeneezer and I walked up into the dunes and saw Yellow Rumped Thornbill, Red Backed Kingfisher, Chiming Wedgebill, and 4 Red tailed Black Cockatoo flying over. There were some parties of Crimson Chats on the roadside as we drove towards Kings Canyon and an impromptu comfort stop in the middle of nowhere (don't know exactly where on that road I'm afraid apart from about 100km from the resort), there was a single Orange Chat.

At Kings Canyon, I got much better views of a Dusky Grasswren at the start of the Creek walk as well as my first Red Capped Robin (a female) of the trip, Little Woodswallow cruising at cliff top height and Grey Shrike Thrush with a big begging baby. The following morning, we did the resort walk, which produced a Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo, Redthroat, Slaty backed and Chestnut Rumped Thornbill, a cracking male Red Capped Robin and 3 Spinifex Pigeon drinking from a puddle on the road. Near the resort's helipad I saw 3 Pallid Cuckoo sitting in a tree until a crow came and made them move on.

Around Yulara/Uluru, it was much drier - apparently they'd had much less rain than other places - but we got great views of a calling Crested Bellbird on one of our circumnavigations of the rock. The walk through the mulga to the cultural centre produced a Western Gerygone, Slaty Backed and Inland Thornbill, Red Capped Robin, Rufous Whistler, Bellbird and a Chiming Wedgebill calling.

One morning I got up a visited a recommended area near the works area of the resort, where I saw Banded Whiteface (new), heaps of Crimson and 2 Orange Chats, Hooded Robin, Crested Bellbird, Pipits and hordes of Zebra Finch. The water plant had 2 each of Grey Teal, Australasian Grebe and Black Fronted Dotterel and a solitary Welcome Swallow.

Our visit to the sunset viewing area one evening produced the only Pink Cockatoos of the trip (they nearly ended up in my radiator which was not the desired way to spot them!). I cruised the airport road twice in the evening looking for Spotted Nightjars (a recommended activity), but no luck either time.

All up, I saw just over 100 species, including 2 lifers and I "cleaned up" earlier sightings for quite a few species that I wanted to see better from my 1991 visit. But, as always, one can't see everything and I missed some species because I reckon the rain had been too long ago or not enough and the emu bush wasn't flowering (so no Pied and Black Honeyeaters?) and I certainly I didn't spend enough time in good spinifex, so I'm definitely saving Rufous Crowned Emu Wren for next time!

Tom Wilson ===============================

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